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Memorial Day may signify the start of the summer holiday season, but it is a solemn day for honoring the fallen—the brave men and women who have given their lives for our country.
Two people who instantly come to mind for me are Master Sergeant Gary Ivan Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randall David Shughart, whose heroics were memorialized in the book and movie Black Hawk Down. Members of the Rangers Sniper Team, they were circling above the battle in Mogadishu, Somalai, when Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant’s helicopter, with three other crew members, was shot down. Gordon and Shughart were providing suppressive fire from the air to protect the downed crew, but felt it was not effective enough. They requested permission to go to the ground even though the odds were against them a rescue crew would arrive in time. Gordon and Shughart fought valiantly until they were low on ammunition. After Shughart was killed, Gordon provided the injured Durant with a recovered rifle and five rounds of ammunition and wished him, “Good luck.” Gordon used only his pistol from that point on to fight until he lost his own life. Durant was captured but released 11 days later.
Determined to get the facts above accurate (I do, after all, make up stories for a living), I visited the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website. The stories on these pages are astounding and I perused several.
For example, I read about Staff Sergeant Robert J. Miller, a man I, frankly, had never heard of involved in a battle I did not know during the war in Afghanistan, but his profile picture with a confident smile caught my attention. Caught in an ambush while leading his patrol, he sent his men back to safety. The official citation for his Congressional Medal of Honor tells the story better than I could:
With total disregard for his own safety, he called for his men to quickly move back to covered positions as he charged the enemy over exposed ground and under overwhelming enemy fire in order to provide protective fire for his team. While maneuvering to engage the enemy, Staff Sergeant Miller was shot in his upper torso. Ignoring the wound, he continued to push the fight, moving to draw fire from over one hundred enemy fighters upon himself. He then again charged forward through an open area in order to allow his teammates to safely reach cover. After killing at least 10 insurgents, wounding dozens more, and repeatedly exposing himself to withering enemy fire while moving from position to position, Staff Sergeant Miller was mortally wounded by enemy fire. His extraordinary valor ultimately saved the lives of seven members of his own team and 15 Afghanistan National Army soldiers.
Stories like Staff Sergeant Miller’s remind me of the many brave men and women I’ve met over the years in airports headed to Iraq or Afghanistan while I was comfortably traveling to some business meeting. A young man sat beside me on a plane being deiced in Philadelphia. He had been yanked from the battlefield 24 hours earlier for an emergency pass to go home for a family emergency involving his girlfriend with plans to return to his comrades by the end of the week. He told me stories of battle—of bullets whizzing by his head—and then looked out the window at the long line of planes waiting for takeoff. He shook his head and said he didn’t understand how we civilians handled the stress every day. Seriously. I’ll admit I broke the law. I bought him a beer from the flight attendant despite the fact he was underage. He deserved it.
Another story on the Medal of Honor website that caught my attention was from WWII—Private First Class Leonard Carl Brostrom who died in the Philippines destroying the machine gun nests harboring the enemy. Again, I turn to his citation for the incredible story:
Pfc. Brostrom, without orders and completely ignoring his own safety, ran forward to attack the pillbox with grenades. He immediately became the prime target for all the riflemen in the area, as he rushed to the rear of the pillbox and tossed grenades through the entrance. Six enemy soldiers left a trench in a bayonet charge against the heroic American, but he killed one and drove the others off with rifle fire. As he threw more grenades from his completely exposed position he was wounded several times in the abdomen and knocked to the ground. Although suffering intense pain and rapidly weakening from loss of blood, he slowly rose to his feet and once more hurled his deadly missiles at the pillbox. As he collapsed, the enemy began fleeing from the fortification and were killed by riflemen of his platoon. Pfc. Brostrom died while being carried from the battlefield.
Today is meant to be celebrated. Spend it with family and friends. Fire up the grill and enjoy a meal.
At some point today, though, spend a moment in thanks to the heroic men and women who have given all so we can enjoy our lives. It’s the very least we can do.
Books I’m Reading
Samuel Sooleyman has a chance few 18-year-olds in South Sudan have—the chance to escape civil war and poverty. Because of his height and dedication to basketball, he is offered an opportunity to try out for a team traveling to the United States to compete against other gifted athletes and have a chance at the golden ring of college and the NBA. If he succeeds, he may have the ability to bring his parents and siblings with him, but they have to survive long enough.
This is not a typical Grisham legal thriller, so don’t read it with that expectation. The book is half about the competitiveness of college basketball where few will make it to the NBA (with lots of descriptions of games and plays, some so well done it might make you think this is a true story). The other half of the book is about the corruption and horror of the wars in South Sudan (with equally descriptive passages about escaping marauding tribal warfare and survival in overcrowded refugee camps).
This is not a light-hearted read, but it’s also not a book—or ending—that I will forget.
I mention it above, but I highly recommend going to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Website. A filtering system allows you to explore the heroics over many wars and allows a brief glimpse of the brave men and women who protect us.
Gratuitous Dog Picture
As the senior member of The Thundering Herd, Frankie Suave offers his thanks to all of the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation and for freedom around the world. Those big, brown eyes tell you how we feel. Please take a moment today during your festivities to offer a moment of gratitude for a debt we can never repay.
Background title image courtesy Philippa Rose-Tite